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Understanding Resilience- The Nature's Bounce Back!

It’s 2021. We welcomed the new year with a plethora of hope, aspirations and positive expectations that were invariably running low in 2020. With such a hard phase as a collective experience almost behind us, regardless of gender, age or race – we're at the threshold of a massive change, albeit positive this time around. Getting up off of the bed every day in the morning, sustaining the motivation to go about regular tasks in the middle of a global pandemic, with so much death and misery surrounding us was definitely a surreal experience of 2020; more so for frontline workers than anyone else. However, with this blog, we aim to celebrate every individual that held their own in this difficult time, faced their worst fears and got over the most challenging of circumstances. We’re celebrating the Resilience displayed by these frontline workers, by us readers, and humanity as a whole. This blog, hence, would outline the concept of Resilience, what it entails, how it can be identified in yourself and the innumerable instances in which this was displayed throughout the pandemic.

What is Resilience?

Many of us have probably heard of this word in passing. What does it really mean?

In simple terms, Resilience is the ability and/or tendency to “bounce back”. It is often confused with mental toughness, which is usually characterized by hardiness and optimism that helps the individual avoid debilitating circumstances.

Resilience, on the other hand, is different. It is the factor that helps people recover from a major setback in life. To think that resilience is a rare quality that applies to the strongest and most inspiring individuals in society is completely and utterly wrong. Resilience is more common than one might think. It is present in individuals that lose the love of their life, present in people that have experienced a job loss or relocation or even something as simple as going through a minor accident. As reiterated by multiple theories given by various psychologists, resilience is NOT a personality trait (like introversion); instead, it is considered to be a dynamic response to adverse situations that depends on an individual’s personality and environment.

To give an idea about how resilience looks, here’s a small example.

Resilience has most often been compared to learning how to play the guitar. When you first try to play, your fingers get sore and you get frustrated. Some may even quit after the second or third lesson. A resilient person pushes past that initial discomfort and soon begins to realize that there are greater joys and satisfaction ahead. In essence, your fingers become more resilient the more you practice. The more you play, the more your fingers can tolerate the string tension, and the strength required to play well.

Learning to play the guitar is a great metaphor for resilience. What it tells us is that resilience is a character trait and a strength that can be learned.

What are Resilient individuals made of?

Over the years, almost all of us have gone through some form of the adverse situation or the other; be it relocation, job losses, death of a loved one or heartbreaks. While these unfavourable incidents remain consistent in their manner, individuals’ reactions to them have differed in varying degrees. Curious about how some people have diametrically different reactions to the same kind of event, psychologists have come up with a theory of Resilience. It is essentially a framework that keeps tabs on how some individuals manage to come out unscathed in the face of debilitating adversity.

Studies focusing on Resilience have helped shift researchers’ perspectives in the direction of how people maintain their health, well-being and continue to grow as individuals despite the inevitable challenges of life.

Hearing about a theory of this kind will lead to one inevitable question. What do these resilient individuals do “right”?

In accordance with the aforementioned theory of resilience, people that display resilience have some common characteristics. In the following section, we’ll go over a few of the most important ones; ones we can easily comprehend and identify in ourselves!

  1. Using healthy coping mechanisms - One of the defining features of a resilient individual is that they use healthy coping mechanisms that protect them against experiences that could be overwhelming. While there has been ample focus on unhealthy coping mechanisms (like projection, avoidance, substance abuse) after a traumatic experience, little has been discussed about healthy ways in which people cope. A healthy coping mechanism will look like a few of these: establishing healthy boundaries, seeking help, and engaging in problem-solving. To know more about healthy coping mechanisms, kindly refer to the recommended reading section at the end of the blog.

  2. Having a flexible self-concept - Every individual has a sense of self-concept. It is the perception of who you are as an individual, the values and morals that build up into your personality. More often than not, a rigid sense of self-concept means that the individual is averse to change and will likely not cope well with a shift in routine. Therefore, when it comes to situations that are highly emotionally demanding, having a flexible self-concept, I.e., a self-concept that allows you to adapt to adverse and life-threatening situations helps in building a resilient personality.

  3. Environmental mastery - Researchers have long debated the influence of the environment on the individual, trying to gauge the extent to which resilience can be attributed as a function of the circumstances that an individual finds himself in. With individuals that exhibit environmental mastery, it’s easy to compare them with a Lotus in dirty pond water. The ability to rise above the circumstances of their immediate surroundings while always keeping an eye on what they would like to see in themselves, as individuals is what makes up environmental mastery. This level of self-regulation and forethought is a clear indication of an individual that displays resilience.

  4. Possessing a sense of autonomy - Autonomy is the ability of a person to act according to his or her own values and interests. In the event of the extremely traumatic circumstances, a normal person would feel like he or she would not have enough control over their actions. It is natural to have an external locus of control (the tendency to allocate the cause of any event to an external factor) during challenging and adverse times. However, a resilient person does not lose the sense of autonomy and always strives to keep pushing forward despite all their setbacks. Resilient individuals have been found to have a sense of autonomy that precedes any other emotion despite the stress of life-altering events.

All in all, as a reader, you must know that it has been noted without fail that resilient people don't wallow or dwell on failures; instead, they acknowledge the situation, learn from their mistakes, and then move forward.

Note: According to a research conducted by Post Graduate nursing students in north India, it was found that nearly 77% of the nurses that worked during the Covid – 19 Pandemic studies exhibited moderate to high-level resilience. The reason why we choose to mention this is because as aspiring medical professionals, it is inevitable that one would come across multiple bad experiences. As someone that makes life or death decisions daily, it is important to build resilience and take care of one’s mental and physical health.

Before we move ahead, here are some myth busters to take away!

Myth busters

Myth: Resilience is only present in the strongest of individuals.

Fact: Resilience is a way of functioning rather than a trait, and it is more common than one might think. While the capacity for resilience might differ from person to person, the fact that every individual has the potential to display resilience remains true.

Myth: People are born resilient. Resilience can’t be learnt.

Fact: Over the years, psychologists and researchers alike have reached a conclusion based on empirical facts that resilience is something that can be taught and learnt. However, it is to be noted that a genetic predisposition to resilience may give some individuals an edge over the others.

Myth: Resilience is a concept that applies only to big traumatic events.

Fact: The assumption that only large debilitating events elicit the need for resilience is utterly wrong. Instances of resilience can be seen in small everyday instances like minor accidents, emotional trauma, heartbreak or simply a bad day. The capacity to get through these things while also learning from them is the true essence of resilience.

Can you build up resilience? Yes, you can!

Scientists and psychologists have long wondered whether the skills required to be resilient are innate (genetic, present since birth as a part of the personality) or ones that can be learnt as any other skill can. After years of focused research, they have come to the conclusion that though some individuals might have a pre-existing tendency towards it, resilience is something that can be taught and learnt to some extent. As more people, organizations, and professionals learn that resilience can be taught and improved, people are signing up to learn more about its benefits.

So, how can we be more resilient individuals?

According to Psychology Today, the following are some of the ways in which we can develop/train ourselves to be more resilient:

  1. Stop your negative thought cycles. Often, when bad things happen to us, we’re stuck in an endless loop of thinking about the event – what could have been different, could I have changed it etc. Embarking on a vicious cycle of overthinking cannot be stopped by just “thinking positively”. The article suggests that one can use behavioural breaks – things like a quick run, a power walk or any equal distraction would help in breaking the cycle of negative thoughts.

  2. Overcome your fear of failure. Most of us go through life avoiding failure like the plague. Trained to do so from a very young age, this is a habit that unfortunately makes for lesser learning experiences. Failing at something, getting rejected from your favourite job or making a terrible mistake is necessary to grow as an individual. Avoiding them simply deprives you of an experience that will help you to be more resilient in the future.

  3. Find the silver linings. The ability to find the silver linings in stressful or difficult situations (also referred to as reappraisal ability) is one of the most helpful qualities as it enables us to generate positive emotions, even when there is nothing in our situation to generate positive emotions for us. Finding silver linings can help counteract negative emotions, decrease stress, and quicken recovery from stressful events.

  4. Face your challenges head-on. There’s a common expression: “Run at the dog”. What this means is that instead of walking towards a scary, barking dog, run at it and see what happens. Of course, the dog is a metaphor for all difficult or traumatic experiences one faces in their life. Instead of approaching the aftereffect of these gingerly, rush into it head-on, and that way the fear of facing it would dissipate in an instant. Very similar to ripping off a band-aid.

  5. Remember, this too shall pass. Reminding oneself that a debilitating experience is not long-lasting or permanent is a very underrated way of building resilience. The ability to think about a future where you will no longer be feeling so bad about whatever you’re struggling with helps you get through difficult experiences.

Resilience isn’t about floating through life on a breeze, or skating by all of life’s many challenges unscathed; rather, it’s about experiencing all of the negative, difficult, and distressing events that life throws at you and staying on task, optimistic and high-functioning. Resilience is not rocket science. It is present in all of us. Now it is up to us to find it and use it to rise above the challenges life throws our way.

Recommended reading

  1. How can one build resilience - the complete article

  2. Resilience skills, Factors and Strategies of the Resilient person

Recommended watching

  1. What is Resilience

  2. 3 secrets of resilient people


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